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Mind-Reading Devices For The Future

Update Date: Oct 17, 2013 01:51 AM EDT

Mind-reading devices could be seen in our future years, according to a new study.

Researchers believe after experiments that when someone calculates numbers or uses phrases that combine terms of quantity there is an equal electrical reaction in one region of the brain.

"It demonstrates, first, that we can see when someone's dealing with numbers and, second, that we may conceivably someday be able to manipulate the brain to affect how someone deals with numbers," Henry Greely, JD, the Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law and steering committee chair of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, said about the study.

For the study, researchers supervised electrical reactions in the intraparietal sulcus, a region in the brain that focuses on attention.

"Previous studies have hinted that some nerve-cell clusters in this area are also involved in numerosity, the mathematical equivalent of literacy," said the Stanford University Medical Center.

Researchers monitored brain activity in three subjects who were being observed for drug-resistant epileptic seizures. 

In order to read the subjects brain, the experiment involved a procedure where the patient's skull was partially removed so that electrodes could be placed alongside the removed surface.

The participants were able to go about their typical day, eating, drinking, thinking, talking and even talking to friends and family members.

At one point the subjects were to answer true/false questions which appeared on a computer.

"Some questions required calculation - for instance, is it true or false that 2 + 4 = 5? - while others demanded what scientists call episodic memory - true or false: I had coffee at breakfast this morning," said SUMC.  

After a week of remaining under vigilance, researchers were able to tell by the monitored electrodes and recorded video footage how their nerve cells responded to the calculations.

Researchers found that when a volunteer said a number or a quantity phrase like, "some more" or "many" there was an electrical response in the intraparietal sulcus just as there was a response in calculations as well. 

"These nerve cells are not firing chaotically," said Josef Parvizi, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology and neurological sciences and director of Stanford's Human Intracranial Cognitive Electrophysiology Program. "They're very specialized, active only when the subject starts thinking about numbers. When the subject is reminiscing, laughing or talking, they're not activated." 

For researchers, this finding could prepare them for future mind reading devices that could drop in on peoples thoughts and even control them.

"Practically speaking, it's not the simplest thing in the world to go around implanting electrodes in people's brains," said Greely. "It will not be done tomorrow, or easily, or surreptitiously."

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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